Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act II

Act II appears to be very tense with a lot of foreshadowing and anticipation. Lady Macbeth hears owls and crickets cry minutes before the king Duncan’s violent death. Often in literature owls are used to represent a bad omen. Macbeth commits the murder as planned but it doesn’t go as smoothly as Lady Macbeth expects. Apparently disturbed after committing the sin against God, Macbeth is unable to say “Amen” at the end of the prayer. He hears two people next to the king’s chamber say a prayer and prays along with them but as they finish it with “Amen”, Macbeth simply cannot say the word. Macbeth explains the situation in following words,

“One cried ‘God bless us,’ and ‘Amen’ the other,

As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.

Listening their fear, I could not say ‘Amen’

When they did say ‘God bless us.’”

The reason why Macbeth feels the way he does is because he understands the proportions of his horrific deed and is aware of its consequences. He has a guilty conscience. He is aware that his hands are stained with blood forever and he won’t find peace ever again. Soon after murdering the king, Macbeth starts hearing voices. One of them professes that,

“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor

Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more”.

Macbeth’s ultimate sin can never be forgiven and he is deeply aware of it. However, Lady Macbeth’s horrific comments reveal that she thinks of the murder in a very superficial way. She thinks it is enough to wash the blood off his hands for Macbeth to forget about the murder. Some of her comments make the blood in the reader freeze! For example, when she says,

“Confounds us. Hark! I laid their daggers ready;

He could not miss ’em. Had he not resembled

My father as he slept, I had done’t.”

This is the first time that the reader has a chance to hear anything remotely sensitive said or done by Lady Macbeth. She is ready to kill the king but his resemblance to her father prevents her from doing so. Even though she appears incapable of feeling love for anyone, she must love her father.

Another detail that I would like to mention in this particular act is “knocking”. It reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Tell-tale heart”, where knocking on the door is the beginning of discovery of the murder. The narrator hears the knocking of the policemen. Later on, he hears the clock ticking. In similar manner, knocking in Macbeth is almost like a countdown to the final discovery of the murder.

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One response to “Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act II

  1. I love everything that you write in this post, and I’m so glad that you brought up some of these ideas in class. I’m also glad that you take note of the use of the owl in this piece. Shakespeare strategically places legendary birds throughout this play to help convey meaning–and in some cases, tone. Great job!

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